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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Efficient Cavaliers Rout Listless Mavericks

The Cleveland Cavaliers used precision passing and sizzling shooting to build an 18 point first half lead and never trailed in the second half en route to a 111-95 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. The Cavs shot .684 from the field in the first half and were credited with 23 assists on their 26 field goals. Although the Cavs cooled off in the second half--shooting .475 from the field in the final 24 minutes--they shot .577 from the field overall and finished with 33 assists on 45 field goals. LeBron James led the Cavs with 25 points and 12 assists, adding five rebounds and committing just one turnover. Mo Williams also scored 25 points, shooting 7-7 on three pointers and 9-12 overall from the field; he tied his single game career-high for three pointers made and became the first NBA player to make all seven three pointers in one game since Bobby Jackson did it on January 11, 2008 for New Orleans against Miami. Anderson Varejao scored 15 points on 7-7 field goal shooting and contributed a game-high tying nine rebounds as the Cavs outrebounded the Mavs 39-24, repeatedly winning the battles for the "50-50" balls that Cleveland Coach Mike Brown exhorts his players to relentlessly pursue. Offseason free agent acquisition Jamario Moon had his best game as a Cavalier, posting season-high totals in points (13) and rebounds (a game-high tying nine).

Delonte West, who had played fewer than seven total minutes in the Cavs' previous four games while dealing with various personal and legal issues, came off of the bench to contribute 10 points, 10 assists and four rebounds with no turnovers in a season-high 28 minutes. West started for the Cavs last season when they won an NBA-best 66 games and they are clearly a different team when he is operating at full effectiveness. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with a game-high 27 points and a game-high tying nine rebounds. Jason Terry added 25 points off of the bench but the Mavs could neither match Cleveland's firepower nor find a way to slow down the Cavs' offensive attack. Jason Kidd had a quietly efficient game: nine points on 3-6 field goal shooting, nine assists, zero turnovers.

The Mavericks were without the services of former All-Star Josh Howard and starting center Erick Dampier, both sidelined due to injury. As a result of Dampier's absence, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle elected to go with a small lineup featuring former Cav Drew Gooden--normally a power forward--at center. Coach Brown countered with a small lineup of his own for significant stretches of the game, resulting in former All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas receiving a DNP-CD (Did Not Play--Coach's Decision). Ilgauskas remains tied with Cavs' GM Danny Ferry for the most games played in franchise history (723).

Initially, though, the Cavs went with a conventional lineup and they softened up the Mavs by pounding the ball inside to Shaquille O'Neal. Although O'Neal only produced nine points on 4-10 field goal shooting with six rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes, he distorted Dallas' defense with his strong presence in the paint: early in the first quarter, O'Neal scored on a driving dunk off of a slick bounce pass from James and then O'Neal reciprocated a couple moments later with a nice feed to James for a two handed thunder dunk; then in the fourth quarter, O'Neal drew three fouls on Gooden in a stretch of less than three minutes, almost single-handedly putting the Cavs in the bonus. O'Neal is no longer a dominant player in terms of playing 40-plus minutes while scoring 30-plus points and grabbing 10-15 rebounds, but he still is a forceful low post player and he knows how to pass out of double-teams. It is an excellent strategy for the Cavs to go to him early and often in the first and fourth quarters to create foul trouble for the opposing team and to force their opponents to reveal when and where they will trap O'Neal (i.e., on the catch or on the first dribble and from the baseline or from the top of the key).

West received a loud, enthusiastic ovation from the home crowd when he entered the game at the 1:31 mark in the first quarter. West contributed two assists in the final minute of the quarter, dishing to Varejao for a layup and delivering an alley-oop to James. West played the entire second quarter, scoring eight points and passing for three assists; he displayed a versatile offensive repertoire: West posted up Terry on the left block and hit a turnaround jumper, then he grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast to coast for a layup. Later in the quarter, West nailed a turnaround jumper from the right block over J.J. Barea and he hit two free throws after being fouled on a strong drive to the hoop. After the game, James praised West's all around skill set: "Delonte is one of those guys who can not play for seven or eight straight games and come back in and not miss a beat. I don't know how he does it but you have certain guys in the league who can do that. Not only can he guard but he can score and he also can post up and that's a big threat. When he is posting up and teams have to double Delonte, man we have so many guys on the perimeter it is going to be hard to guard us. He has always been an aggressive player and he did a great job tonight."

In his postgame standup, Coach Brown singled out James, Williams, West, Varejao and Moon for praise, noting that he was pleased that the Cavs had "a lot of good individual performances...a lot of guys stood out." Before speaking with the media, Coach Brown generally uses a red pen or marker to highlight key statistics in the boxscore and those form the basis of his initial talking points before he opens the floor for questions. Cleveland's rebounding advantage, Moon's season-best performance, Mo Williams' shooting and the high assist/low turnover totals by James and West were among the numbers that Brown circled on his boxscore.

Naturally, Coach Carlisle was not at all pleased with Dallas' performance: "We needed to be better defensively. Simple as that. You give up 68 percent field goal shooting in the first half, you're going to be behind...In the first half, we got caught ball watching too many times. Cuts for layups, cuts for catches that led to another pass and a three--it got us behind the eight ball. It was probably as poor a defensive half as we've played all year."

TNT's Kenny Smith often talks about the importance of having the right mix of players so that every player is in the role that he is best suited to fill. When West is in the lineup, Coach Brown is able to distribute playing time most effectively throughout the eight or nine man rotation and he does not have to overwork a veteran player like Anthony Parker or a limited player like Daniel Gibson. If the Cavs are able to consistently get 25 productive minutes from O'Neal and 25-30 solid minutes from West then they will be very difficult to beat come playoff time. As for the Mavs, they have already demonstrated that they are a top notch Western Conference team and they will really be a handful for anyone once they bring Howard and Dampier back into the fold.

Notes From Courtside:

In Cleveland's first 16 games, LeBron James made 160 field goals and amassed 124 assists, accounting for 284 of the Cavs' 576 field goals (49.3%) while shooting career-high percentages from the field (.525), three point range (.356) and the free throw line (.786).


According to STATS, INC., the most three point field goals made by a single Cavs player in the first 15 games of the season since 1994-95 is 40 (Mark Price, 1994-95). Mo Williams (32), Anthony Parker (30) and Daniel Gibson (28) led the Cavs in 3FGM after 15 games this season. The only Cav other than Price to make more than 32 three pointers in the first 15 games of a season during that time span is Gibson (36, 2007-08). Williams and Delonte West each made 28 three pointers in the first 15 games of last season.


Dirk Nowitzki authored his fifth 30 point game of the season by scoring 31 points on 10-14 field goal shooting during Dallas' 113-92 win at Indiana on Friday night. Nowitzki became just the sixth player this season to score at least 30 points in a game while shooting at least .714 from the field. Nowitzki has not been recognized as a top MVP candidate since he won the award in 2007--no doubt at least in part because of Dallas' stunning first round loss to Golden State in that year's playoffs, a series in which Nowitzki did not distinguish himself--but he is having another outstanding season. The Mavericks were 12-4 prior to losing to Cleveland and Nowitzki ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring (a career-high 27.1 ppg) while averaging 8.6 rpg, 1.2 spg and a career-high 1.6 bpg. Nowitzki has averaged at least 21.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg in every season since 2000-01, his third year in the league. Nowitzki has averaged 22.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg during his regular season career and--contrary to popular perception in the wake of Dallas' 2006 NBA Finals loss and 2007 first round elimination--he has been even more productive during his postseason career (25.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg).

During Coach Carlisle's pregame standup, I asked him, "Do you think that in some ways Dirk Nowitzki is underrated or under the radar as an elite player? He has been 11th (in 2008) and 10th (in 2009) in MVP voting the past couple years but his stats are still at the same level that they were when he won the 2007 MVP."

Carlisle replied, "He was First Team All-NBA last year, which means that he is the best power forward in the game. MVP balloting tends to be based more on total overall record--which is legit--but when it comes to who is the best at their position I think that the press got it right in the All-NBA voting. Look, he is not under the radar to people who know basketball. We know how good he is--and he's great."


Jason Kidd recently moved into ninth place in NBA history in three point field goals made (the NBA has used the three point shot since the 1979-80 season). He also ranks second in career assists (trailing only John Stockton) and third in career triple doubles (behind only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson). As a member of the New Jersey Nets, Kidd averaged a triple double (14.6 ppg, 10.9 apg and 10.9 rpg) during the 2007 playoffs, including a 4-2 loss to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Oscar Robertson is the only other player who averaged a triple double during an entire playoff season (1962, the same year that he became the only NBA player who averaged a triple double during an entire regular season).

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:07 AM



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